Meet Miranda Elliott-Rader, the artist behind this year’s Rock t-shirt design

WTJU’s 2024 Rock Marathon fills the airwaves from April 15 – 21, with dozens of shows built around the theme “Harmony of Sound: Embracing Diversity in Rock.” When you donate, you can choose a pretty fantastic t-shirt as a thank-you gift.

That t-shirt design came from Miranda Elliott-Rader. She is a puppeteer, mathemagician, and Quaker mystic. To see more of Miranda’s work, sign up for her quarterly email newsletter.

We asked Miranda a few questions about this year’s t-shirt design and about her creative work in general.

What was the genesis for this year’s Rock Marathon design?

My girlfriend recently became a rock DJ, and when DJ LP happened to mention to her that they were looking for an artist for the shirt, she “voluntold” me (her phrasing). When I found out the theme, I had the idea of showing a diversity of drawing styles and kinds of people by making an illustration that would incorporate contributions from different artists around the community. Then I found out the deadline and I was like “oh shit! I dunno if I’ll have time to do what I was thinking of!” But then I was like, well I wouldn’t want to put this short deadline on someone else either so I’ll just do my best. 

This was a collaborative illustration… How did you find others to add their drawings? How did you piece them together?

Um… I mostly just asked people as I happened to see them! And I emailed a few artists directly who I knew and felt comfortable asking. Not everyone was interested, or followed through, but I gradually got braver about asking. I also made a poster and hung it up a few places, but I didn’t get any drawings that way, I think because the timeframe was too short. If I design a collaborative drawing like this again, I will definitely be a lot braver and more direct about just asking people, even strangers, because people had generally a more positive response than I expected. I don’t have social media and maybe I’d also recruit a social media helper next time. 

To piece them together, I printed out each drawing and traced it the old fashioned way, on tracing paper. I used different types of pens to emphasize the different line qualities. Then I scanned the drawings (thanks Northside library!) and grouped them and overlapped them in GNU image manipulation program software. 

What are the challenges and benefits of working in this way?

One of the biggest challenges was asking people: thinking of who to ask to get a variety of line drawings and a variety of perspectives, while having most of the drawings be pretty good quality; working up the courage to ask them; and then waiting to hear back and bugging people without feeling annoying! It definitely would have been a lot faster to just make up my own picture. 

But I think seeking out collaborators was what made this whole idea even possible, visually, by really showing different kinds of drawing, that look like they’re by different people. And there were fun ideas I never would have thought of, like having someone rock out so hard they jumped in the air, or including a bagpipe! 

Who are the people pictured in the illustration? All based on real people or some fictional?

When I put out a call for drawings, I specified “a drawing of yourself or a loved one as a rock musician”, so all the people pictured are real people who are part of our Charlottesville community. Some folks are playing fictional instruments, but the majority are shown playing what they really play (my neighbor really does play the bagpipes! Though they don’t really have purple hair, yet). 

How does this piece fit in with your other artistic work?

As a puppeteer, I like to make art that’s going to move. I really dislike making things that just hang on walls. And so I think I enjoy dabbling in illustration so much because this is going to move, too, when people wear it! It’s a shirt. Illustration for replication is just, less precious somehow than one-off art pieces, and I enjoy the process of tracing and drafting and collaborating with the person asking for the illustration about how it fits their vision. 

Also I just love to draw people. Y’all are so Interesting! I attended figure drawing at McGuffey for a long time and now I host my own figure drawing sessions, and I love the way that practice helps me really SEE people, all our different shapes and bodies and postures and expressions, all our uniquenesses. Everyone is beautiful to an artist. 

What do you hope your work does in the world?

I have an index card taped up on the wall of my studio that says “I am here to be an antidote to despair”. So many things want to suck our souls here in the empire we live in: entrenched systems of oppression; economic pressures, especially on people my age and younger; algorithmic feeds that scrape our eyeballs for their pennies; so much unacknowledged grief, individually and communally; we could all go on and on. And I find that creative work, making or experiencing it, can be a path that takes us another direction, out of that head space, out of capitalism, towards feeling like I am connected to more in this world than I realized, I do have enough, my time isn’t money, purpose and joy are available in small expansive moments.  I mean I am a religious person and I’m comfortable with religious language so I say that I hope my work brings people into communion (with God, with one another, with the Earth, those are all synonyms) but I think you can think about the same idea without religious language, words like connection or oneness, wholeness. This is all a lot of background for I hope people see this shirt and think “oh hey, maybe I could be in a rock band too”

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